Remember when you first started working out? In those early days you were probably gifted one of the most oft-repeated misnomers in the fitness world – light weight for toning, heavy weight for bulking. Sound familiar? I actually don’t know where all of these beginners are getting this insanity from, but it’s clearly still being repeated as often as ever.
Check Yo Self Before You Wreck Yo Self
With a little education, most of us are brought towards the light, and see this silly recipe isn’t how muscle is “toned” or bulked. Things like diet, cardio, and genetics are just a few of the ingredients that contribute towards the shape of our muscles and total body physique. With that said, there are a few things we can do to ever so gently nudge our muscles towards that ideal shape. Of course, we all have our own “ideal shape”, but from experience, women want that athletic-y – yoga-y – Victoria Secret super model body. I’m not saying this workout program is going to turn you into the next Miranda Kerr, but it has been shown to help you develop an athletic physique, complete with longer, lean muscles, and a toned appearance. More on the last two in a bit…let’s first get into the nuts and bolts of this workout program.
I already dispelled the myth of, “light = toned, heavy = bulk”, but let me explain it a little further very briefly. Getting “toned” is simply a matter of removing the excess body fat covering your muscles. A lean muscle that is hidden by less fat is going to look toned. Doing a million 5-pound bicep curls isn’t going to burn that fat covering your arms. You’re not going to look toned. If it were that simple, how many ripped up, shredded, and beast mode grannies would we see running around? Seriously, all I see 65+ women doing is light weights…and I hate to say it, but they’re not exactly ripped. On the converse, you can lift heavy weights all day, but if you have the appetite of an anorexic model….well, you’re not going to get bulky. Muscle doesn’t grow out of thin air.
So the key to building muscle AND getting toned is two-fold; build muscle mass through a variety of weight training exercises + techniques AND reduce body fat. It’s that simple. Actually, it’s not simple in practice. But since we’re all superstars, yes, it actually is that simple. Okay, I digress…
The Lean Muscle Building Formula
Getting yourself on a weight training program that is especially good at building muscle is key. It sucks when you kill it in the gym following a workout program on some random blog (but not this random blog). If you could have only seen that program was made by some bro-science fan boy with Jean Claude van Damme posters above his bed, you probably would have thought twice. But since you had no clue who put that plan together, you did it and just wasted 6 weeks of your time. Yeah, it sucks.
Luckily for you, I’m in a position to test out a lot of these workouts I post on myself, my regular clients, and my mostly willing friends. What I’ve got for you today is a sure-fire, muscle-builder that anyone can easily incorporate into their workout program. The basis behind this muscle-building program is simple; seven to eight exercises per workout, roughly four high rep exercises (12 reps) and four low rep exercises (5 reps). This combination will drive muscle growth, increase muscle size, AND add strength.
Long + Lean Muscles
Now, I also promised you longer muscles and a toned appearance. When you lift weights, you are compacting your muscles. You’re shortening muscle fibers, you’re tightening fascia, and generally inching, ever so slowly, towards an inflexible hunk of meat. To counteract the effects of weight-lifting and maintain length through your limbs, you’ve got to stretch. Stretching will accomplish two goals; it will loosen muscle fascia allowing muscle tissue to expand and fill a greater area. Remember those ideal yoga bodies? Yeah, it’s not coincidence they all look long and lean. Secondly, opening fascia will give muscle more room to grow. This will allow you to more easily add lean muscle mass to your frame.
Stretching needs to seriously become priority 1a in your workout program. AFTER every workout, give yourself a 10-15 minute stretch. Your chest, your shoulders, forearms, triceps, biceps, quads, hamstrings, back, and calves need to be stretched. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then move on. You can absolutely give yourself a good stretch across your body in 12 minutes. I’ve timed myself, so don’t tell me otherwise.
We’re almost all the way to that long + lean body…but as I mentioned, we’ve got to do cardio to really get “toned”. Since our focus is building muscle here, we need to chill a bit on the cardio. We’re going to do just enough cardio to burn those fat cells, but not enough to put ourselves in starvation mode. We do that, and our muscle growth absolutely stops. Take things easy, do your HIIT cardio (preferably fasted) two to three times a week to start. Over the course of the next six to eight weeks you should absolutely see those muscles starting to rear their beautiful heads.
Your Long + Lean Muscle Building Workout
Let’s check out a workout program that is absolutely ideal for building new muscle tissue, with the underlying goal of developing a long, lean, and athletic body type.
- 3 x 12 Bench Press
- 4 x 5 Barbell or Smith Machine Squats
- 4 x 5 Incline Dumbbell Bench Press (go heavy here we’re doing 5 reps a set!)
- 4 x 5 Dumbbell Military Press
- 3 x 12 Dumbbell Flys
- 4 x 5 Barbell Skullcrushers
- 3 x 12 Barbell Front Press
- 3 x 12 Lateral Dumbbell Raises
- 4 x 5 Bent Over Barbell Rows
- 4 x 5 Deadlifts
- 3 x 12 Lat Pulldowns
- 3 x 12 Close Grip Seated Rows
- 3 x 12 Dumbbell Shrugs
- 3 x 12 Face Pulls
- 4 x 5 Single Arm Dumbbell Row (per side)
- 4 x 5 Barbell Curls
Stick with the workouts above, then every second week, switch things up so your high-rep exercises become low-rep and vis-versa.
A weekly workout schedule would look something like this…
- Monday: Workout A
- Tuesday: REST
- Wednesday: Workout B
- Thursday: HIIT Cardio
- Friday: Workout A
- Saturday: HIIT Cardio
- Sunday REST
Week two would then start with Workout B on Monday…
Keep in the above is going to vary slightly based on your own personal goals, ability to recover, time constraints, etc. The one constant however, needs to be your stretching. I already said this, but I’m saying it again because it’s that damn important; stretch after every single workout. You want to look lean and athletic? Stretch.
Give that a whirl and come back here to post your inevitable questions. Don’t worry about how stupid you may think they are – post ’em below and I’ll help set you straight.